Sharks? Box jellyfish? Snakes, crocs and spiders? Actually, the most dangerous thing you’ll face in Oz might well be driving in the Outback. The hazards are numerous: 50m-long road trains, rough tracks that shake your car apart and locusts that clog up your radiator. If you’re game, try the Mereenie Loop road, which passes through Aboriginal land (you’ll need a permit).
6. Bealach na Bà, Applecross peninsula, Scotland
Applecross: it sounds like a village in the Cotswolds, but this is the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. Applecross is a corruption of the Gaelic Apor Crosan (“estuary”) and its most famous road, Bealach na Bà, is no gentle country jaunt. This former cattle drovers’ road has a 20 percent gradient and is full of switchbacks. The views over to Skye are worth the white knuckles.
7. Shibuya Station crossing, Tokyo, Japan
If Tokyoites weren’t generally so very law-abiding, this would be utter chaos. As it is, it’s just…chaos. Wait patiently as pedestrians stream across like ants before you, with blazing neon and five-storey TV screens screaming down all around. If you’re not at the wheel, you can watch the madness from the bridge corridor linking the JR station with the Shibuya Mark City complex.
8. The Transfăgărăşan, Romania
It’s said that the cost – both financial and human – of building this road through treacherous mountain terrain outweighed its usefulness. It’s also said that Romanian dictator Ceauceșcu commissioned it more or less because he could. But when you’re looking down from its highest point, the 2042m Pasul Bâlea, with the road slinking like unspooled cassette tape before you, history is likely to be the last thing on your mind.
Herds of cattle, burst drains, street protests – as a driver, there are plenty of tedious reasons why your progress might be held up. But even sinkholes pale into comparison with what the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has in store for motorists: molten lava. There’s really nothing you can do about it, so just go with the flow.
10. Passage du Gois, France
You can have a dreamy old time of it on the Île de Noirmoutier, with its colourful bathing huts and whitewashed houses, figs and mimosas, renowned oysters and cod. Impressionist painter Renoir loved it here. So it’s somehow fitting that the 4.5km-long causeway to the island, “Le Gois”, has an ethereal quality, disappearing twice daily with the tides.
11. North Yungas Road, Bolivia
Death Road. The World’s Most Dangerous Road. The monikers of this highway pull no punches. It was built as the original road linking La Paz with Coroico in the North Yungas, descending swiftly through 3500m in just 64km. Year on year, bus after bus and car after car have toppled over the edge. Nowadays the road is used mostly by mountain bikers, though some local drivers still prefer it over the replacement bypass, opened in 2006.
12. Lena Highway, Russia
If you had any preconceptions about Siberia, this road might well cement them. The Lena Highway is the 965km section of the road that runs all the way from Moscow to the Siberian city of Yakutsk. Yakutsk lays fair claim to the title of “World’s Coldest City”, with average January temperatures of -45°F. Ironically, it’s during the warm, wet summers that this road is most problematic. During this season, rain turns the surface into the most appalling quagmire.
Ever find yourself getting road rage while waiting at some traffic lights? The planners of Addis Adaba’s Meskel Square decided that they were an unnecessary addition to this intersection, and look how that’s worked out. It’s real-life bumper cars just waiting to happen. The fact that the square is a focal point for gatherings and demonstrations does not help the situation.
If you’re in the passenger seat, try not to close your eyes. If you’re driving, don’t even blink. With switchback after switchback and hairpin upon hairpin, this is one of Europe’s greatest drives (television show Top Gear even called it the world’s greatest). The thrilling route passes across the Ortles mountains and ends up in the ski resort of Bormio. While the driving might be white-knuckle, for cyclists (the road sometimes forms part of the Girò d’Italia) it’s plain lung-busting.
Take your leave of China in style by navigating this highway up in the country’s northwest. It enters Pakistan via the iconic 4700m-high Khunjerab Pass, which translates as “River of Blood” in the Tajik tongue. This has been the link between China and the Indian subcontinent since time immemorial – and it’s as grand as you’d expect. Don’t be put off by the prospect of altitude sickness – the views, of snow-caked mountains and yak- and camel-dotted pastures, are worth it.